As I entered the city of Yaroslavl, I noticed a fairly large recreational beach along the Volga River. Having spent my last years in the United States living in California, I am naturally drawn to beaches – even if they are along a river instead of an ocean.
With the exception of Russia’s Black Sea shores, spacious stretches of soft sand running along a body of water are somewhat uncommon in Russia. The beach in Yaroslavl being one of these exceptions still cannot be compared to even the most modest of beaches in California. Nevertheless, I could not pass up the opportunity to step foot on the sands of that beach.
“When in Rome,” they say, “do as the Romans do.” Well, I may never be considered a “real Russian” because of it, but I do not foresee the day that I would ever go swimming, as Russians do, in a river running through a Russian city. Perhaps I am too spoiled by the salty ocean to ever settle for swimming in an urban river but the beach in Yaroslavl was large enough to accommodate hundreds of people. Subtract a pandemic and add thirty or so degrees to the temperature and I am sure that beach would be a popular local swimming spot.
As I stood there that chilly Sunday afternoon in my wool jacket and socks, (and hiking boots with a wool lining in them), in the silence I imagined that alternate universe: a hot summer day, people swimming, children splashing, single guys showing off on the chin-up bars, married men grilling chicken and pork shashlik for their families, and women sunbathing on blankets laid out over the very sand on which I was standing.
For the sake of it, alone there on that beach, except for a woman sitting on a bench reading and drinking what I could only assume was a coffee, I took a run at one of the chin-up bars in the middle of that beach and then made my way the city center.
Aside from this beach, the city offers another organized beach – in fact, a nudist beach, sprawling along the opposite side of the Volga. The weather being as it was that day, with the addition of occasional rainfall, there was not anybody occupying that beach, either.
It turns out that Yaroslavl is the capital of Russia’s Golden Ring. Aside from its public and nude beaches, the city boasts a charming boardwalk along the Volga with a pedestrian path both at water level and atop the steep grassy hill running parallel with the river. The latter offers access to facilities such as the port where one can hop aboard a river boat cruise, the former – a bird’s eye view of the river.
At the southernmost point of the embankment, there is a beautifully landscaped park inside which is the monument obelisk commemorating the 1000-year anniversary of the city’s founding back in the year 1010. From there, the next major landmark along the embankment is the enormous white Uspenski Cathedral with five golden bulbs pointing up into the sky (as well as a sixth bulb positioned over the main entrance) which was destroyed during the time of the Soviet Union but restored in time for the city’s 1000th anniversary. This cathedral was closed and with the exception of two young children riding scooters (and their parents standing off in the distance) there was no one else with me in the park grounds surrounding that cathedral.
Three more Russian Orthodox Churches built along the embankment add to the city’s river skyline and can be seen as one walks north from the cathedral past the eternal flame monument to the casualties of World War II, but a total of seven Russian Orthodox Churches and two monasteries in that immediate area, as well as the city’s white brick kremlin, offer plenty of sights within short walking distance.
Partly due to the epidemic but more likely as a result of the rain, the city center was also largely empty. I appreciated the unique opportunity to be photographed alone in the city’s empty main square before the city administration building. In other normal circumstances, I could only imagine how many people would be meandering around and I have a strong preference for pictures without uninvited strangers.
The plan for the day called for making it my next destination, the city of Kostroma, at a decent time of day in order to rent an apartment for the night. The hotels in Russia are not accepting new guests without confirmation of business-related travel, so doing the Russian version of Airbnb was the only viable option for accommodations. I prefer this type of accommodations anyway – it is generally cheaper than a hotel, requires less paperwork, and you get a whole apartment for the night as opposed to just a bed and bathroom in a hotel.
Next stop: Kostroma, and I will tell you about that charming little city on the Volga in the next part this series.